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The Ups and Downs of Hill Training

How and why Get-Fit Guy thinks you should run up and down a hill, over and over again.

By
Brock Armstrong
10-minute read
Episode #351

Bonus Hill Workouts

Bounding:

A great way to develop strength and stride efficiency is to incorporate "bounding" drills into our program. Use a moderate grade (6 or 7 percent) for this workout and perform the following variations of the bounding drill:

  • Vertical - Drive off the toes of the back foot, lift the opposite knee high, and emphasize vertical (upward) movement; land on the front (opposite) foot and repeat.
  • Horizontal - Same as vertical bounding, but concentrate on the length (not height) of the bound. It’s fun to imagine yourself as a speed skater doing this one.
  • Skipping - You likely know what skipping is but just in case, it is the same as the vertical bounding but you land on the same foot that started the bound, then take a step onto your opposite foot, and again you spring vertically, land on that foot, and rinse and repeat.

Do these for 50–70 meters and then jog nice and easy, back down the hill before you start the next repeat. One to two reps of each bounding drill is enough and will limit the number of curious stares that you receive.

Downhill Strides:

Finally, this workout is great for building your quadricep strength. Pro tip: if you can, do this workout on grass or a dirt trail to soften the blow. 

When you run downhill, your quadriceps contract (eccentrically) to prevent your knees from buckling. At the same time, your knee bends slightly, stretching the quadriceps. The balancing of these forces results in eccentric contractions which recruit fewer muscle fibers, increasing the force required from those that are activated. It also results in more damage to the recruited fibers due to the increased force. This results in stronger quadriceps, better knee drive and a superhuman resistance to quad soreness… ok maybe not that last one but you should get less and less sore the more often you practice this.

When you start doing this workout, stick to four to five repeats of 60–100 meters on a moderately steep grade of 6 to 7 percent. Run at 85 percent maximum pace and take a 2 or 3-minute recovery between hills. After a while, you can increase to six to eight reps at 90 to 95 percent effort but don’t force it. Give your body time to get proficient and efficient at this one so you don’t wind up with bags of ice on your knees!

Convinced?

A recent study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning looked at the connection between treadmill intervals at an incline and running economy. The researchers compared three groups of runners: one group that performed 4–6 high-intensity treadmill intervals for an average of 2 minutes and 16 seconds with no incline, one group that performed 10–14 30-second high-intensity intervals at a 10 percent incline, and a control group who continued fiddling around with their regular running routines. The researchers found that both interval groups similarly improved aspects of running economy during the six-week study.

Another study published just last year in the International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance had twenty well-trained runners perform an incremental treadmill test to determine aerobic and biomechanical measures, a series of jumps on a force plate to determine neuromuscular measures, and a 5-km time trial. They then performed six weeks of high-intensity uphill running intervals and repeated the same set of tests. In the end, they discovered that not only did running economy improve but the runners were also 2 percent faster, on average, in 5K time-trial performances.

As you can see, after only 6 weeks of running up and down hills, slowly, quickly, short and long can have a dramatic effect on your economy and performance. Combine this training protocol with the advice “slow down on the ascent, speed up on the descent” and you will be blowing past your competition on either side of the mountain.

For more info on running, tips on getting fast, and to join the hill repeat conversation, head over to Facebook.com/GetFitGuy or twitter.com/getfitguy. Also don't forget to subscribe to the Get-Fit Guy podcast on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify, Google Play or via RSS.

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About the Author

Brock Armstrong

Brock Armstrong is a certified AFLCA Group Fitness Leader with a designation in Portable Equipment, NCCP and CAC Triathlon Coach, and a TnT certified run coach. He is also on the board of advisors for the Primal Health Coach Institute and a guest faculty member of the Human Potential Institute. Do you have a fitness question? Leave a message on the Get-Fit Guy listener line. Your question could be featured on the show.